Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

When Someone You Love has an Addiction


When Someone You Love Has an Addiction

The fallout from an addiction, for addicts and the people who love them, is devastating – the manipulations, the guilt, the destruction of relationships and the breakage of people. When addicts know they are loved by someone who is invested in them, they immediately have fuel for their addiction. Your love and your need to bring them safely through their addiction might see you giving money you can’t afford, saying yes when that yes will destroy you, lying to protect them, and having your body turn cold with fear from the midnight ring of the phone. You dread seeing them and you need to see them, all at once. 

You might stop liking them, but you don’t stop loving them. If you’re waiting for the addict to stop the insanity – the guilt trips, the lying, the manipulation – it’s not going to happen. If you can’t say no to the manipulations of their addiction in your unaddicted state, know that they won’t say no from their addicted one. Not because they won’t, but because they can’t. 

If you love an addict, it will be a long and excruciating road before you realise that there is absolutely nothing you can do. It will come when you’re exhausted, heartbroken, and when you feel the pain of their self-destruction pressing relentlessly and permanently against you. The relationships and the world around you will start to break, and you’ll cut yourself on the jagged pieces.  That’s when you’ll know, from the deepest and purest part of you, that you just can’t live like this any more.  

I’ve worked with plenty of addicts, but the words in this post come from loving one. I have someone in my life who has been addicted to various substances. It’s been heartbreaking to watch. It’s been even more heartbreaking to watch the effect on the people I love who are closer to him than I am.

I would be lying if I said that my compassion has been undying. It hasn’t. It’s been exhausted and stripped back to bare. I feel regularly as though I have nothing left to give him. What I’ve learned, after many years, is that there is absolutely nothing anyone can do to change him. With all of our combined wisdom, strength, love and unfailing will to make things better for him, there is nothing we can do. 

I realised a while ago that I couldn’t ride in the passenger seat with someone at the wheel who was on such a relentless path to self-destruction. It’s taken many years, a lot of sadness, and a lot of collateral damage to people, relationships and lives outside of his.

What I do know is that when he is ready to change direction, I’ll be there, with love, compassion and a fierce commitment to stand beside him in whatever way he needs to support his recovery. He will have an army of people behind him and beside him when he makes the decision, but until then, I and others who love him are powerless. I know that.

Nobody intends for a behaviour to become an addiction, and if you are someone who loves an addict – whether it’s a parent, child, partner, friend, sibling – the guilt, the shame and the helplessness can be overwhelming. 

Addiction is not a disease of character, personality, spirit or circumstance. It can happen to anyone. It’s a human condition with human consequences, and being that we’re all human, we’re all vulnerable. Addicts can come from any life and from any family. It’s likely that in our lifetime, if we don’t love someone with an addiction, we’ll know someone who does, so this is an important conversation to have, for all of us. 

The problem with loving an addict is that sometimes the things that will help them are the things that would seem hurtful, cold and cruel if they were done in response to non-addicts. Often, the best ways to respond to an addict have the breathtaking capacity to drown those who love them with guilt, grief, self-doubt and of course, resistance.

Loving an addict in any capacity can be one of the loneliest places in the world. It’s easy to feel judged for withdrawing support for the addict, but eventually, this becomes the only possible response. Unless someone has been in battle armour beside you, fighting the fight, being brought to their knees, with their heart-broken and their will tested, it’s not for them to judge. 

The more we can talk about openly about addiction, the more we can lift the shame, guilt, grief and unyielding self-doubt that often stands in the way of being able to respond to an addict in a way that supports their healing, rather than their addiction. It’s by talking that we give each other permission to feel what we feel, love who we love, and be who we are, with the vulnerabilities, frayed edges, courage and wisdom that are all a part of being human.

When Someone You Love is an Addict.

  1. You’re dealing with someone different now. 

    When an addiction takes hold, the person you love disappears, at least until the addiction loosens its grip. The person you love is still in there somewhere, but that’s not who you’re dealing with. The person you remember may have been warm, funny, generous, wise, strong – so many wonderful things – but addiction changes people. It takes a while to adjust to this reality and it’s very normal to respond to the addicted person as though he or she is the person you remember. This is what makes it so easy to fall for the manipulations, the lies and the betrayal – over and over. You’re responding to the person you remember – but this is not that person. The sooner you’re able to accept this, the sooner you can start working for the person you love and remember, which will mean doing what sometimes feels cruel, and always heartbreaking, so the addiction is starved of the power to keep that person away. The person you love is in there – support that person, not the addict in front of you. The sooner you’re able to stop falling for the manipulations, lies, shame and guilt that feeds their addiction, the more likely it will be that the person you remember will be able to find the way back to you.

  2. Don’t expect them to be on your logic.

    When an addiction takes hold, the person’s reality becomes distorted by that addiction. Understand that you can’t reason with them or talk them into seeing things the way you do. For them, their lies don’t feel like lies. Their betrayal doesn’t feel like betrayal. Their self-destruction doesn’t always feel like self-destruction. It feels like survival. Change will come when there is absolutely no other option but to change, not when you’re able to find the switch by giving them enough information or logic.

  3. When you’re protecting them from their own pain, you’re standing in the way of their reason to stop.

    Addicts will do anything to feed their addiction because when the addiction isn’t there, the emotional pain that fills the space is greater. People will only change when what they are doing causes them enough pain, that changing is a better option than staying the same. That’s not just for addicts, that’s for all of us. We often avoid change – relationships, jobs, habits – until we’ve felt enough discomfort with the old situation, to open up to a different option.

    Change happens when the force for change is greater than the force to stay the same. Until the pain of the addiction outweighs the emotional pain that drives the addiction, there will be no change. 

    When you do something that makes their addictive behaviour easier, or protects them from the pain of their addiction – perhaps by loaning them money, lying for them, driving them around – you’re stopping them from reaching the point where they feel enough pain that letting go of the addiction is a better option. Don’t minimise the addiction, ignore it, make excuses for it or cover it up. Love them, but don’t stand in the way of their healing by protecting them from the pain of their addiction. 

  4. There’s a different way to love an addict.

    When you love them the way you loved them before the addiction, you can end up supporting the addiction, not the person. Strong boundaries are important for both of you. The boundaries you once had might find you innocently doing things that make it easier for the addiction to continue. It’s okay to say no to things you might have once agreed to – in fact, it’s vital – and is often one of the most loving things you can do. If it’s difficult, have an anchor – a phrase or an image to remind you of why your ‘no’ is so important. If you feel as though saying no puts you in danger, the addiction has firmly embedded itself into the life of the person you love. In these circumstances, be open to the possibility that you may need professional support to help you to stay safe, perhaps by stopping contact. Keeping a distance between you both is no reflection on how much love and commitment you feel to the person, and all about keeping you both safe.

  5. Your boundaries – they’re important for both of you.

    If you love an addict, your boundaries will often have to be stronger and higher than they are with other people in your life. It’s easy to feel shame and guilt around this, but know that your boundaries are important because they’ll be working hard for both of you. Setting boundaries will help you to see things more clearly from all angles because you won’t be as blinded by the mess or as willing to see things through the addict’s eyes – a view that often involves entitlement, hopelessness, and believing in the validity of his or her manipulative behaviour. Set your boundaries lovingly and as often as you need to. Be clear about the consequences of violating the boundaries and make sure you follow through, otherwise it’s confusing for the addict and unfair for everyone. Pretending that your boundaries aren’t important will see the addict’s behaviour get worse as your boundaries get thinner. In the end this will only hurt both of you.

  6. You can’t fix them, and it’s important for everyone that you stop trying.

    The addict and what they do are completely beyond your control. They always will be. An addiction is all-consuming and it distorts reality. Know the difference between what you can change (you, the way you think, the things you do) and what you can’t change (anyone else). There will be a strength that comes from this, but believing this will take time, and that’s okay. If you love someone who has an addiction, know that their stopping isn’t just a matter of wanting to. Let go of needing to fix them or change them and release them with love, for your sake and for theirs.

  7. See the reality.

    When fear becomes overwhelming, denial is a really normal way to protect yourself from a painful reality. It’s easier to pretend that everything is okay, but this will only allow the addictive behaviour to bury itself in deeper. Take notice if you are being asked to provide money, emotional resources, time, babysitting – anything more than feels comfortable. Take notice also of the  feeling, however faint, that something isn’t right. Feelings are powerful, and will generally try to alert us when something isn’t right, long before our minds are willing to listen. 

  8. Don’t do things that keep their addiction alive.

    When you love an addict all sorts of boundaries and conventions get blurred. Know the difference between helping and enabling. Helping takes into account the long-term effects, benefits and consequences. Enabling is about providing immediate relief, and overlooks the long-term damage that might come with that short-term relief. Providing money, accommodation, dropping healthy boundaries to accommodate the addict – these are all completely understandable when it comes to looking after someone you love, but with someone who has an addiction, it’s helping to keep the addiction alive. 

    Ordinarily, it’s normal to help out the people we love when they need it, but there’s a difference between helping and enabling. Helping supports the person. Enabling supports the addiction. 

    Be as honest as you can about the impact of your choices. This is so difficult – I know how difficult this is, but when you change what you do, the addict will also have to change what he or she does to accommodate those changes. This will most likely spin you into guilt, but let the addicted one know that when he or she decides to do things differently, you’ll be the first one there and your arms will be open, and that you love them as much as you ever have. You will likely hear that you’re not believed, but this is designed to refuel your enabling behaviour. Receive what they are saying, be saddened by it and feel guilty if you want to – but for their sake, don’t change your decision.

  9. Don’t buy into their view of themselves.

    Addicts will believe with every part of their being that they can’t exist without their addiction. Don’t buy into it. They can be whole without their addiction but they won’t believe it, so you’ll have to believe it enough for both of you. You might have to accept that they aren’t ready to move towards that yet, and that’s okay, but in the meantime don’t actively support their view of themselves as having no option but to surrender fully to their addiction. Every time you do something that supports their addiction, you’re communicating your lack of faith in their capacity to live without it. Let that be an anchor that keeps your boundaries strong. 

  10. When you stand your ground, things might get worse before they get better.

    The more you allow yourself to be manipulated, the more you will be manipulated. When you stand your ground and stop giving in to the manipulation, the maniplulation may get worse before it stops. When something that has always worked stops working, it’s human nature to do it more. Don’t give into to the lying, blaming or guilt-tripping. They may withdraw, rage, become deeply sad or develop pain or illness. They’ll stop when they realise your resolve, but you’ll need to be the first one to decide that what they’re doing won’t work any more.

  11. You and self-love. It’s a necessity. 

    In the same way that it’s the addict’s responsibility to identify their needs and meet them in safe and fulfilling ways, it’s also your responsibility to identify and meet your own. Otherwise you will be drained and damaged – emotionally, physically and spiritually, and that’s not good for anyone.

  12. What are you getting out of it?

    This is such a hard question, and will take an open, brave heart to explore it. Addicts use addictive behaviours to stop from feeling pain. Understandably, the people who love them often use enabling behaviours to also stop from feeling pain. Loving an addict is heartbreaking. Helping the person can be a way to ease your own pain and can feel like a way to extend love to someone you’re desperate to reach. It can also be a way to compensate for the bad feelings you might feel towards the person for the pain they cause you. This is all really normal, but it’s important to explore how you might be unwittingly contributing to the problem. Be honest, and be ready for difficult things to come up. Do it with a trusted person or a counsellor if you need the support. It might be one of the most important things you can do for the addict. Think about what you imagine will happen if you stop doing what you’re doing for them. Then think about what will happen if you don’t. What you’re doing might save the person in the short-term, but the more intense the addictive behaviour, the more destructive the ultimate consequences of that behaviour if it’s allowed to continue. You can’t stop it continuing, but you can stop contributing to it. Be willing to look at what you’re doing with an open heart, and be brave enough to challenge yourself on whatever you might be doing that’s keeping the addiction alive. The easier you make it for them to maintain their addiction, the easier it is for them to maintain their addiction. It’s as simple, and as complicated, as that.

  13. What changes do you need to make in your own life?

    Focusing on an addict is likely to mean that the focus on your own life has been turned down – a lot. Sometimes, focusing on the addict is a way to avoid the pain of dealing with other issues that have the capacity to hurt you. When you explore this, be kind to yourself, otherwise the temptation will be to continue to blunt the reality. Be brave, and be gentle and rebuild your sense of self, your boundaries and your life. You can’t expect the addict in your life to deal with their issues, heal, and make the immensely brave move towards building a healthy life if you are unwilling to do that for yourself.

  14. Don’t blame the addict.

    The addict might deserve a lot of the blame, but blame will keep you angry, hurt and powerless. Addiction is already heavily steeped in shame. It’s the fuel that started it and it’s the fuel that will keep it going. Be careful you’re not contributing to keeping the shame fire lit.

  15. Be patient.

    Go for progress, not perfection. There will be forward steps and plenty of backward ones too.  Don’t see a backward step as failure. It’s not. Recovery never happens in a neat forward line and backward steps are all part of the process.

  16. Sometimes the only choice is to let go.

    Sometimes all the love in the world isn’t enough. Loving someone with an addiction can tear at the seams of your soul. It can feel that painful. If you’ve never been through it, letting go of someone you love deeply, might seem unfathomable but if you’re nearing that point, you’ll know the desperation and the depth of raw pain that can drive such an impossible decision. If you need to let go, know that this is okay. Sometimes it’s the only option. Letting go of someone doesn’t mean you stop loving them – it never means that. You can still leave the way open if you want to. Even at their most desperate, most ruined, most pitiful point, let them know that you believe in them and that you’ll be there when they’re ready to do something different. This will leave the way open, but will put the responsibility for their healing in their hands, which is the only place for it to be.

And finally …

Let them know that you love them and have always loved them – whether they believe it or not. Saying it is as much for you as it is for them. 

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I can relate to this so so much. Do you think if i show this to my partner hed get an understanding about ehats going on because i think if he did read itd be like just reading about his own behaviour and actions ect. And if so when would be the best time to let him read it ( or read it together) cause i think it mght make him a bit clear on the damadge he is really causing us? And wiuld it be okay to let him read it while he is high? Or not… i ony ask because he provbly would jot read it if he wasnt or just think its some sort of sick joke. But if he was he vould possibly get some sort of understanding and thing omg i have been doing all of those things or would it just be a waste of time if he is high reading it and either agrees to all or disagrees to all? I do think if he does read he will definentley have his eyes a little more open into whats happening between us instead of just my own “stupid opinion” on things. Im just unsure


As soon as I started reading this the tears started, again. Today I had to tell my adult addict son that he had to leave my home as I cannot take it anymore. I had to because this addition is either going to kill him or it will kill me with the worry, the guilt, the anger. I almost wish that it would just get me so I don’t have to watch him. I’m exhausted and I hate myself – just like him.


Melissa….not sure what your circumstances are presently as you wrote this 2 months ago. Just wanted to offer you support and tell you that you’re doing the right thing. Addiction is just plain crappy but you have to save yourself so you can be whole and healthy and sane when he’s ready! Blessings to you and your family!

Beth P

Hi Melissa. I am the mom of a young adult daughter, also named Melissa, who I had to “kick out” today. I am beside myself with grief. She isn’t and addict. She is in love with one. He is nowhere close to recovery and will either drain her of everything she has going for her or entice her into addiction as well. I cannot have her in my home, because she has been lying and sneaking him in and they have even begun asking which items they might sell for “gas money”. I’m sorry for you. I’m angry and scared and I don’t know how I will survive this. Thank you for your post,


I have an adult son that is an addict and an alcoholic. He has lost everything. I had to stop two months ago giving him money. I’m sure some of it was used to buy drugs and alcohol He was in rehab for a week and said he was good. Came home, went to meetings, got a job. This was in April of this year. His son came to visit from out of state and he quit the meetings. He is now on his sixth place to live since he has come back. He keeps saying he is fine. I started Al-snon last week and will continue to go. It was either do that or go to counseling. I was on the verge of a breakdown. I, myself suffer from high anxiety, depression and insomina. I wlll try to work on me for the time being. I know God is in control and things are done in His time, not ours, but we sure can’t stand to wait when someone we love are killing themselves.


Excellent Article, my life….. as I grew-up with an alcoholic step-father and my brother is an addict. What it has done to my family is everything described in this article.

Phillip T

Great post. This is a hard subject and it is sometimes hard to see an addiction. I was with my girlfriend for 5 years and she hid her addiction from me for 3 1/2 years. I would notice small changes or things missing but it was never anything I found alarming. Turns out she was in serious need of help and it was something I never noticed, luckily she received the help she needed and it happy and healthy once again. Great post, I’ll be reading more!

Karen Young

Thanks Phillip. You are so right – it is very difficult for everyone involved, but certainly not a hopeless one. Thank you for sharing your story.


There are a ton of articles about this subject but none that are “on point” as this one. Fate and an open heart brought me to see and read this today… Thank you


After reading the article,,I have made a life changing decision,,my daughter is in detox for 7th time this year. I know at this point I have to let go and not allow her back into our home,,, The pain saddness and anger has destroyed our relationship,,,Am I right to stand strong and not communicate when she is discharged,,,she is in denial of needing long-term rehab,,, My heart is broken and I’m scared this addiction is going to Win,,,

Karen Young

It sounds as though you have worked so hard to support your daughter. Speak to the professionals at her detox centre. They will help to guide you through what will be best for you and your daughter.


Broke my heart reading the article, it felt like someone was talking about my life. I’m dealing with my boyfriend’s addiction and I’m falling into pieces. I wanted to do so much but realized this is not my battle and it’s affecting me while he don’t even realize it. I can’t talk to anyone I barely have friends anymore. I need to move away from him before it affects the rest of my family. I even thought about killing myself cus this is too much to handle. Been severely depress to the point I was on a leave of absence cus they noticed at work. I need to move out but we have no more money anymore cus of his spending. I have 2 kids smart enough to realize soon that something is happening. He barely take them to school. He is not who n how he was before. I’m scared of what can happen if I leave or when I leave cus my mind says I really have to. I’m sorry I got to say all this cus I haven’t been able to be open about this to anyone.


Honestly the most true, on-point thing I’ve read about loving an addict. I’ve been in a relationship with an addict for eight years and have read everything I can get my hands on. Often I feel a disconnection in advice as far as what is best for the addict and what is best for you – this article weds the two in a very relatable way, and came to me at the perfect time. I’m sad but know what I need to do. I can’t thank you enough and hope this helps others too.


Well written article Karen – with very useful information. I also came to this article by fate — I’m an addiction counselor looking for some different resources for a family that is struggling with an intervention gone wrong just yesterday. They are now facing the difficult follow through of the consequences that they wrote about and the painful realization that it is out of their control. The pain and devastation is real!

Christian R.

I’m not sure if you still respond to these, but this helps. I wanted to help because I’m a teenage male who has tried to help my girlfriend recover in a situation where she really needs it. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart

Christina K

I was doing a Google search to find a support group for people in love with an addict. I came across this article. I have to agree with some of the others; this is by far the best article on this subject I have ever seen. And in the past 6 years I have seen many articles. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a support group. I’m no longer with him, but I’m still so hurt , and I still love him so much . I feel like I’m addicted to him at this point . So if there’s anyone out there that knows of a support group for spouses in relationships with addicts do please send me a message. Thank you so much for this post!

Beth P

Christina K, I came her looking for the same! I need help, support for people who have lost loved ones to someone else’s addiction.
My daughter is in love with a longtime meth and heroin addict. She won’t listen to anyone about the slim chance she has of saving him.
I wish she’d read this article! I had to ask her to move out in order to save myself from the drama and hopefully be able to help her when he drains her of everything or turns her into an addict as well. She 21 and so naive and full of unrealistic hope for her first love …my heart is broken and I am exhausted from worry and trying to reach her.


Can anyone help? I was in a a very serious relationship with my girlfriend for almost two years. She’s gone now. Everyday I think about her. She is passing time in a sober living home where she’s now block me from her life. Even though I’m not an addict,,, I never provided her with illegal drugs nor do I condone that behavior and she knows it. She has made me feel as if I’m a trigger?? That I’m to blame. I talk to her three weeks ago. I barely knew her.., I know she is getting away with either drinking… using or both… this all started late in July when she ran out one night on a overnight we had together… i found out next am she had stuck a needle in her neck. I did inform her house manager of what happened. They let her back in and I haven’t see. Her since except for small glimpses on social media. This has devastated me… why did she turn this on me?? Thank u… matt. Everyone has warned me she will be back at some point. The only thing I can figure is that when she got her phone back in late August… she heard the change in my voice that I couldn’t tolerate this anymore…. I have been trying to untangle this for a couple months now. Your knowledge is very welcome to me!! God bless matt


Absolutely the best article I have read in a while. I am currently dealing with an active addict my husband whom I love so much and this article has given me hope and truths and new faith. I am a strong believer of boundaries set with love. I will for now not give up. My husband is in strong denial and I will keep my boundaries, with love.
Thank you for this eye opener of an article. Well written, honest and pure. This is the way it is. All the best of luck and the biggest strength for anyone dealing with a loved one that is addicted. Our strength will be blessed one day, in a good way or a bad way, we tried!


I met and fell in love with a woman early this year.After about 4 months I found out she had a drug problem. She has thrown me out of her life more times than I would count. She has gone into rehab 3 times in the last few month’s. She calls me back again and again. Each time we get closer and closer. She will always find a reason to leave me . She is gone again, has blocked her phone so I can’t call ,they won’t let me into the bar she went back to working at. There are times when she would look into my eyes and say thank you for being here for me. This is the hardest thing that I have ever gone through. I know that she is going through her own hell. I really don’t think I can just walk away. I don’t know what to do.


I am battling a challenge on what’s best for me and my teenage daughter as I have been trying to remain a supporter to my partner for 8 years. I have been through so much pain, disappointment, guilt, depression all kinds of feelings do to addiction. I was hoping someone may have some advice for me. I feel like the best thing to do is walk away but then I feel so lost and depressed it’s been a terrible struggle, I have lost friends, family and isolation.i have lost myself in ways I can’t explain . My partner has said many times his they want a better life and acknowledge the problem but don’t seem sincere to me about changing. is it even possible to be with an addict and be happy. Please all supportive comments are welcomed


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